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dressage horse and rider

Whispers In The Tack Room

Philosophy Riding   22nd January 2024  

In the UK, an appalling scandal has unfolded, capturing the nation’s attention. It’s a tale of one man’s relentless battle against the government, the Post Office, and a colossal software company—all to right an injustice.

(And yes, this will have something to do with horses that you’re not going to want to miss. Promise.)

Alan Bates was a seaside sub-postmaster, the kind who knew everyone who came into his shop. It was more than a job, and Alan loved being at the heart of the community… until the day he was accused of stealing from his post office.

Alan knew that the new software the post office had installed was the real culprit, but nobody would listen.

He lost his livelihood, his reputation, and the life he and his wife cherished.

The Courage To Defy

Yet, this was not an isolated case. All across the UK, other sub-postmasters faced similar fates, each being told they were alone in their struggle. Many were convicted of fraud, even imprisoned.

Alone, they were powerless.

But Alan Bates refused to be silenced. He united many of the victims, and together, they began to make progress. In 2019, their collective voice triumphed in a group legal action, and a recent TV docu-drama has since illuminated their story, recasting Alan not as a pariah but as the hero he truly is.

An Equestrian Mystery

I feel a bit like Alan, some days.

Because something’s happening in the horse world that nobody is acknowledging.

It’s damaging to horses, and to riders…and nobody wants to talk about it.

But when I posted on social media recently, there was an outpouring of people (quietly) supporting me.

What is this controversial issue?

Nosebands.

Everywhere I see horses with their noses strapped in tight nosebands…something that stops them from opening their mouths and relieving themselves from pressure from the bit.

It makes them easier to control, but what does it do to the horses? Everywhere you see the stress… flared nostrils, dripping drool and lathered necks… or despairing absent eyes… and the worst thing is none of this is necessary.

I’ve been searching for years but I can find no evidence that nosebands are needed or actually help at all.

(Except to comply with archaic competition rules, that is.)

In fact, I’ve shown, in my own riding and with our students, that horse and rider are happier when the noseband is loosened (or better still, completely removed!), and the rider learns to listen to and ask questions of their horse in a more skilled way.

There’s nothing I like to hear more than a horse’s sigh of relief when that thing is taken off.

The Easy Way Out

Strapping the horse’s face shut is not a kind answer to the challenge of controlling a horse.

It’s just the easy option in the short term.

It’s like Alan’s story. It was far easier to bully the sub-postmasters into submission than to get three huge organisations to take responsibility for what went wrong.

And it’s easier to bind a horse’s mouth shut and silence his protests (or “evasions”) than to learn to communicate effectively and kindly with skilful hands.

If only more of us dared to be brave, like Alan Bates, and loosen or remove our nosebands, how many horses would have happier lives?

I get that dressage judges and successful riders and trainers have been known to insist that tight nosebands are essential.

I know what it’s like to hear those whispers in the corner of the tack room.

It can be scary to be the odd one out, standing up for your horse alone, but what if more of us stand together?

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments.

P. S. The UK government have announced new legislation to clear the names of the wrongly convicted sub-postmasters and Fujitsu are now saying they will pay compensation. The minority CAN make a difference!

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